|Calvin Thurkauf - Shoot the Breeze|
- If the Kelowna Rockets play with the same commitment, emotion and passion they did Wednesday night, they will undoubtedly make a long run in this years playoffs. The same holds true for the Prince George Cougars. In a display of the best that the Western Hockey League has to offer, both BC Division teams received solid goaltending, created numerous scoring chances and received significant efforts from throughout the line up. It was a shame at games end that one team had to lose considering how well it was played. Tyson Baillie and Cole Linaker scored third period power play goals and Tomas Soustal scored in the shoot-out in the Rockets 3-2 home ice win. It was the best game of the eight game seasonal series between the teams because of how hard both played and how dynamic the two are in the offensive zone.
- As my colour analyst Kent Simpson pointed out before the start of the game, Ty Edmonds can be lights out or leaky. The Cougars goaltender was at his best Wednesday night and his first save of the game, a solid glove hand stop on Rodney Southam 30 seconds into the first period, was a clear indicator that the 19 year-old was locked in. Edmonds, the games first star, made several solid stops to keep the Rockets off the board before the power play struck twice in the third period. The best part of Edmonds game was not overplaying pucks. Edmonds stood tall and didn't overcommit to any shooter. The Whitehorse, Yukon born Edmonds made an amazing save on a one timer from Tyson Baillie in the third period and how good was his save on Dillon Dube in overtime? For the record, Michael Herringer was equally as good at the other end of the ice and was aided by no less than two goal posts and a cross bar.
- How good was Dillon Dube? Dube was a threat every time he had the puck. It should be common place with his skill set. Unfortunately it hasn't been that way over the last 6 weeks. The 17 year-old, up until last night has struggled, playing a mostly individualistic game which saw him over think plays rather than trusting on his hockey instincts. Last night though, Dube was using his greatest asset, his skating, which created the penalty shot chance in the second period. I thought Dube's greatest contribution was his composure late in the third period when he received a high stick between the benches and no call was made. Instead of retaliating in frustration, Dube sucked it up and continued to battle before Cougars overager Luke Harrison punched Dube in the face and the 20 year-old was sent to the penalty box. Moments later the Rockets scored on the power play. Dube didn't get an assist on the Cole Linaker goal but he should have with his ability not to take a selfish penalty in a 1-1 game.
- Speaking of the Cole Linaker goal, it was greasy and it was gorgeous. I love those goal mouth scramble goals. That tells me the team is determined to score. It is easy to play a perimeter game, but getting tight on the goaltender for secondary chances is so rewarding.
- Lucas Johansen was great on the blue line. Aided by the return of Gordie Ballhorn after a 7 game absence, Johansen was seen joining the rush and making smart plays with the puck. I think Johansen has turned into a terrific defenceman and seems to be getting better with every game. When he is more proactive in the o-zone it makes such a difference in creating odd man rushes.
- I don't often speak about Devante Stephens, but he too has been really good over the last five games. Honestly, it has been a trying season for the 18 year-old, who is being exposed a bit with Madison Bowey moving on to pro hockey. That said, Stephans is making safer plays with the puck in his own zone and his battle level has been ramped up substantially. Watch him battle for a puck in the corner in his own zone. No longer is he the loser in that situation. Stephens is skating hard to the puck, separating the man from it and taking it away. It is a small detail but it's noticeable for all who are watching.
- Rodney Southam's third period fight with Kody McDonald took me off guard. The two elected to fight with just over 6 minutes left in the third period in 1-1 game. I thought it was odd timing for the tilt considering what was on the line and the possibility of giving the Cougars a spark if McDonald was able to win the scrap. As it would turn out, Southam handily won the fight and his team scored 1:32 minutes later to take a 2-1 lead.
- The win snapped a two game losing streak and moved the Rockets within three points of Victoria for first place in the WHL standings with six games to play. The Rockets still hold a game in hand. Up next is a date with the Kamloops Blazers Friday night. The two teams will meet for the third time in a week.